13th Voyage

45 - Between Fang and Eye
The tale of the stowaway and the sphinx.

With the knowledge of Barbafir’s plans, the Twist of Fate sets out to beat him to the Eye of Hunger. At the time of rendezvous, the nomadic whirlpool is anticipated to be north of the Rukh’s Beak, a rocky spar-island known for a populace of avian monsters. The venturers do their best to dispel their tensions and prepare for a dangerous situation.

One night halfway along the route, Ramjat wakes Aya past midnight. The anxious bird warns his mistress that there is a stowaway on board, and that he heard the stranger enter the cargo hold. Aya’s first action is to go abovedecks and notify Attsu. The two check the upper hatch to the hold, and discover that someone has unsealed it. They lock the hatch again, and Attsu takes on stealth form to sneak down into the hold while Aya wakes Kismet.

Attsu creeps into the hold quietly enough to overhear the stranger whispering, and a fainter, somewhat metallic voice responding. The other voice sounds exasperated, complaining of pursuit by a “furred mongrel.” The stowaway asks when he should act. “Do not strike until they draw near the Eye,” comes the response. “Then slay their aeromancer. Disable the ship however you can. But it must be boarded.” The distant voice pauses, then complains of exhaustion and ends the conversation in time for Aya and Kismet to slip into the cargo hold. But they are not quite as stealthy as they would like, and the agent turns their way.

The stowaway’s first action is to leap from the crates toward the upper hatch. He seems surprised to find the hatch battened, much to Attsu’s amusement. The spy’s second action is to attempt to lunge past the women. Aya conjures a wind, but succeeds only in knocking over one of the cargo crates. But Attsu is quick to shift and lash out with his tail-whip, catching the stowaway around the ankle and halting his flight entirely.

The spy is human, with a somewhat intense gaze; Aya suspects him of Brotherhood of Vipers training. Attsu, with help from Kismet, begins threatening the would-be saboteur. Neither of them are particularly interested in playing the role of the benevolent captor who could be talked into mercy. Eventually Aya negotiates a best-case scenario in which they maroon the spy, as opposed to Attsu’s insistence that he could just start eating body parts.

At that the spy clutches at his arm. “You have to fake my death!” he cries. “We don’t have to do anything,” retorts Attsu. But the spy is insistent that the Ascending Flame will kill him horribly if they know he’s alive and did not complete his mission. The venturers promise to consider the possibility, and that loosens their captive’s tongue.

He tells them that his master, Zaerdahil, is headed for the Eye of Hunger — as is Unnat al-Shim, and Khalit the Slaver of Winds. “They will definitely come for your ship,” he says, “for Barbafir has a jewel, but you have two.”

The trio searches their captive before they bring him on-deck. They discover terrible burn scars on his arm and torso, the sort that may have been inflicted to burn away tattoos of a former loyalty. Aya is convinced that she was right, and that their captive Hasat is a deserter from the Brotherhood of Vipers. She suggests that if anyone could heal those burn scars, Wind-of-Embers might. The wind-caller then proposes a plan to magic away Hasat’s scars, wrap him in a sheet, “drown him” in the sea, then pull him forth and ritually rename him. If he has a wholly new name, then the Ascending Flame’s divinations should have little purchase. The others agree that it seems as good a plan as any, and Aya goes to Wind-of-Embers to discuss the possibility.

Over the remainder of the trip, Wind-of-Embers calls on her fire-god Hakasarre to scourge away Hasat’s scars. Regrettably, Notch picks up Attsu’s taste for taunting the captive. At one point while the elven priest is channeling healing fire-magic into the man’s scars, Notch leans over the process with an unsettling gnollish grin. “I like it charred on the outside, but fresh and red on the inside, please.”

The swiftest approach to the Eye takes the Twist of Fate closer to the Rukh’s Beak than would be ideal. Ship lookouts spy only one ship orbiting the whirlpool, presumably Barbafir’s Fang of the Shaitan. Tairasha warns the crew that they may be fighting one or more sorcerer-captains soon, and tells Notch to carry his yellow quiver.

But as the Twist of Fate draws closer to the maelstrom, a lookout calls out that something is approaching them from the Rukh’s Beak. Notch goes to watch the beast, taking a spyglass of his own. Before long, he says that whatever it is, it has four legs.

“A griffin?”

Notch shakes his head. “Larger.” He exhales through sharp teeth. “Sphinx.”

“What kind?”

“Vulture.”

Aya suggests that a vulture-headed sphinx might be a servant of Tajat, and therefore not immediately hostile. The venturers agree to let it approach and see what it wants. The huge sphinx circles the ship once before it lands on the deck, surrounded by very nervous crewmen.

The sphinx’s first words are a warning. The ship, it tells them, is headed for great upheaval. It has seen visions, prompted by the unusual souls at play — and it stretches out its beak and taps against Attsu’s chest. “A great storm is about to break.”

“We intend to oppose it.”

The sphinx settles back on his haunches. “I may help,” it says, cocking its head and surveying the group with a yellow eye.

“What is your price?”

“Barbafir Bloodmouth carries a soul that is not his.” The sphinx focuses its gaze on Attsu again. “So do you.”

Attsu nods solemnly, and gestures to Kismet. Realization settles over her as she reaches into the magical bag and retrieves the small clay vessel taken from Nehedza’s cellar, the urn containing the soul of a colleague from Attsu’s long-ago mortal life. He takes it from her hand and holds it up to the sphinx. The great vulture’s beak reaches out and closes on the urn, and crushes it into shards. A faint radiance leaks out of the broken vessel, and the sphinx inhales it.

“I wanted to say goodbye,” says Attsu.

The sphinx looks back at him, tilts its head for a moment, then straightens. “I will assist,” it says, and then it spreads its wings and launches back into the air, the Twist of Fate rocking from the sudden shift.

As the sphinx circles away, shouts go up — two more ships are approaching the Eye of Hunger, from the west and the northeast. Aya takes the spyglass and identifies the closer ship from the west as the ship from Plum WIne Island, rigged for an aeromancer’s winds: the Typhoon Queen. The farther ship is not as immediately familiar, but she recognizes the decorations that mark it as the Leviathan Crown — the flagship of Unnat al-Shim, the Shackler of Tides.

The venturers decide to cut off the Typhoon Queen. With Aya’s windcalling and Tairasha at the helm, the Twist of Fate cuts skillfully around the edge of the whirlpool, threading the needle to arrive between the Fang of the Shaitan and the maelstrom’s rim. They draw close enough to see Barbafir Bloodmouth himself at the rail, a robed sorcerer beside him focusing on a complicated brass-and-crystal apparatus. The venturers gesture, and Barbafir’s three wives move to the edge of the ship and begin berating their very surprised husband. The gambit seems to work, as he orders his men to hold their fire. Aya leans over and tells Notch to be ready to shoot the jinn prison out of the wizard’s hands.

As the domestic dispute continues, both sides shouting to be heard over the waters’ roar, Attsu takes on his couting form and climbs up the mast, edging out onto a spar to be ready to leap to Barbafir’s ship if need be. Kismet is content to let the wives continue their scathing chastisements, but then Aya decides she has had enough. A powerful wind kicks around her, and she seems to manifest the authority of a djinn proper. Barbafirs’ wives part as she advances on the rail, and her voice carries like thunder. “There is no time for this! The Ascending Flame is coming, and you must stop what you are doing and prepare to resist them!”

The corsair lord falters for a moment, then sets his jaw. “The offering is already sent!” he shouts back. “He is coming!”

Aya gives Notch the signal, and the gnoll looses his arrow. The shaft passes through the workings of the sorcerer’s apparatus and lodges into his flesh, and the would be jinn-binder goes pale. As the Typhoon Queen draws near and Attsu tenses to spring, Notch’s apologetic chuckle is lost in the maelstrom’s roar — which grows even louder as the voice of a marid echoes within it.

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44 - Murder in Clockwork
The tale of the castaway and the clockwork serpent.

Attsu cannot set aside a great curiosity for this clockwork city that has created something in his image, even loosely. He decides to go down into the streets to see if anything there strikes him as familiar. He takes on his small scouting-cat form and descends into the island’s interior.

Regrettably, his stealth fails him almost immediately. He crosses the path of a trio of guards, two very like the near-satirical halberdsmen that the party fought on the docks. The third, and clearly the leader, is made more cunningly. It sights the small clockwork cat attempting to remain out of view in an alley, and long blades snap out from along its forearms and into its hands as it advances. But before it draws back to strike, it pauses, and it looks at the signet ring fastened into Attsu’s forepaw. The clockwork officer presents an elaborate and respectful salute, and Attsu bows in return. Then the guards resume their patrol and leave him be.

And so Attsu explores more of the heart of the Isle of Gears. The city seems to be a small but elaborate replica of a living metropolis, though Attsu cannot recall any living city that might have been the specific pattern. The city is neatly apportioned into various districts, such as a market, upper-class residences, a few parks that boast lush and living greenery in addition to trees of brass and steel, and a foundry that seems to be ever at work repairing, reforging, and creating the clockwork citizens. The city even has a slum quarter, where the clockwork inhabitants have been neatly devised to resemble the poor unfortunates of mortal societies. Attsu looks on many works, but still cannot ascertain what might drive a jann to create such a thing.

At the same time, Kismet and Aya decide to go investigate the crumpled body of the clockwork noble that so resembled Attsu. They slip down to the base of the wall and look it over. The mechanical nobleman was clearly a much less sophisticated creation than Attsu, and its wreckage shows no sign of the more elaborate workings that allow him to change his form. Its only weapon is a curved short sword at its side.

Aya is satisfied to discover that her initial hunch was right — the noble appears to have been “murdered,” in whatever sense that may be. He bears a wound in his back where a blade, perhaps the same length as his own sword, was driven through his breastplate and into the cogs within. But Kismet has a much more comprehensive understanding of mechanisms, and her assessment is that the fall was what rendered the clockwork inoperable. Their curiosity honed further, the two return to wait for Attsu. They choose a patio on the walk to the estate, and sit on a bench under a tree with large, white, pleasant-smelling blossoms to pass the time.

As they wait, a small clink draws their attention. A small cog now lies on the patio floor before their bench, fallen from some unknown direction, with a thread tied to it and to a small scroll. Aya cautiously takes the scroll and unrolls it as Kismet looks around. The paper carries a short message in imprecise calligraphy — “Are you here for the jann?”

“Um. No,” says Kismet to the open air. The two women wait the span of a few breaths, and then another cog falls to the patio with a second scroll. They open this second message, which reads “Are you planning to leave?”

“Um. Yes,” says Kismet again. Aya looks into the tree, and sees a small form close to the trunk, which flashes in a subtle movement before becoming very still. Another clink, and a third cog lands on the patio. Kismet reads the third scroll — “Can I come?”

“Um. …Yes?”

Aya locks eyes with the figure, and then it slips down to the ground and emerges. The subtle visitor is a kobold, three feet tall at best and with streaks of grey in his jackal-like muzzle. He wears layers of threadbare cloth, and a complicated mass of small bundles. He introduces himself as Nyip, a name that Kismet has some initial difficulty pronouncing. He also says he is late of the Netmakers Quarter, and Kismet quietly acknowledges with a countersign of the City of Thieves.

Nyip tells the two that he has been on the island for a long time. He unfolds a small bundle of dates and offers them to the women; Kismet gladly accepts, and Aya takes one only after Nyip eats one himself. The kobold says he was aboard a ship that now lies at the bottom of the harbor, and he has been evading the clockworks ever since. He claims that he has only remained sane by reading books in the meantime.

The two ask him if he knows anything about the “murder” of the noble master of the nearby manse. The kobold shakes his head, though he can tell them the name of the noble — Battsu Cadmia.

At that time Attsu returns. Nyip is back in hiding immediately, but the women encourage him to reemerge and introduce himself. The kobold quickly recognizes Attsu’s new signet ring, and allows himself to be convinced that Attsu is not one of the island’s creations. The group talk for a moment about the “death” of Battsu Cadmia and who or what might do such a thing. Nyip mentions that the city was making plans for Battsu’s wedding, which intrigues the venturers. The kobold denies knowing any more details, though. “No, Sarasti would know more about—” and he clamps his paws over his muzzle, eyes wide.

With some coaxing, Nyip admits that Sarasti is his one friend on the island. The venturers convince him to guide them to her, once they have spoken to the manse’s residence once more.

Attsu strides into the manse of Battsu Cadmia and calls out “I need assistance!” The sphere-riding servant appears almost immediately. Attsu first asks the servant his designation, and “Eight ibn Cadmia” is the response.

“Who was the last person not of House Cadmia to visit here?” asks Attsu. Eight ibn Cadmia consults his records, and then says, “No one, my lord.” Aya and Kismet gasp with excitement — apparently the clockwork nobles are sophisticated enough to scheme to murder one another!

Attsu orders Eight ibn Cadmia to show him the manse records. The mechanical scribe guides them into its office and shows them the thin sheets of metal stamped with peculiar writing. Attsu finds the script familiar, as does Aya. Together they discover that the latest record dealing with an external matter was a formal complaint registered by Jattsu Cadmia regarding the forthcoming wedding.

At this, Attsu dismisses Eight bin Cadmia, and the scribe awkwardly leaves the venturers alone in its office and rolls around outside as they discuss the matter. With no clear course of action — is the intrigue even their business at all? — the venturers leave the manse and return to the patio. There Nyip gives them directions to the house of Sarasti and slips away, promising to meet them there.

The venturers proceed to one of the finer districts of the city, Attsu’s signet giving them free passage. The directions lead them to an elegant home with a ramp rather than stairs leading to its entrance. The interior is somewhat dim, but lamps ignite as they enter. There they come into a room where the metal couches have actual cloth cushions upon them. Nyip is already seated on one of the pillows, but the hostess uses no furniture at all. Sarasti is a clockwork herself, fashioned in the form of a beautiful woman from the waist up and a great bronze serpent from the waist down, adorned with metallic jewels and a length of shed snakeskin for a shawl. She welcomes the venturers to her home, and it is immediately clear that she is a work of comparable sophistication to Attsu.

Their hostess speaks as though she already knows something of the venturers even before they are introduced. She says she has been a guest of the island’s jann master for some time, and spoken with others of his circle. She clearly recognizes Attsu, and she mentions that she knows of Aya by reputation.

Sarasti freely speaks of the jann Hajanti Coppertooth fashioning her current form. Attsu says it’s clear that the two of them are very similar, and she admits to it. “Though this body has not extended my life,” she says. “Rather, my already extended existence—” and she strokes the dry snakeskin about her shoulders— “has been moved into a more useful body.” Attsu asks to take a closer look, and she elegantly poses to show off one side, then the other. At this, Aya decides she is certain just what Sarasti is. She has heard stories of necromancy, rarely used, that binds a dead Serpent Emir’s spirit to one of its skins. There are no tales, to her knowledge, of the serpent’s spirit being removed from its skin to a new vessel, but that clearly does not mean the practice is impossible.

Attsu asks Sarasti what she knows of the city. She tells them of the exile of Hajanti Coppertooth, who settled in the material world because he had been disgraced among the Sultanates of the Jinn. Hajanti had a bitter rivalry with an efreeti, another artisan who specialized in clockwork. The jann claims that his rival framed him, and that he has been building the city here as an attempt to impress his former patron.

The venturers ask about the wedding, and Sarasti smiles. As one of the few complicated social developments in the city, it has been of some interest to her. The bride in question, she says, is the Bronze Crane Princess, and she is still in the refining process. The groom was to be Battsu Cadmia, but of course, no longer. Aya says that Jattsu was likely the one responsible for destroying Battsu.

“That sounds likely,” says Sarasti. “Attsu’s…” She pauses to choose the correct term. “His cousins are a great variety. Jattsu has very realistic ambitions; Tattsu is rather dull, but a more proper heir to Battsu. Khattsu is just a beast, and so on.”

Hajanti Coppertooth, she says, is trying to recreate his greatest work. But he’s obsessive, and in that obsession he isn’t getting all the details quite right. This puts Attsu in an interesting place, she notes. He might well be the inspiration Hajanti requires. Attsu digests the news, and decides that perhaps he and his companions are better off not going to meet the jann just yet.

Attsu shakes his head. “This isn’t even why I came to this island. I came in search of a shipwreck.”

“Fate moves in strange ways,” says Sarasti, “yet it is always in motion.”

Nyip speaks up at that point; he paid more attention to the corsairs who arrived recently. They made two dives to pull something from the wreck, then they had a dispute and marooned a handful of their own crew members. Then the ship sailed away. As much as he had hoped to leave the Isle of Gears, Nyip admits that he thought stowing away on that particular vessel would have been a poor idea.

Sarasti adds that she’s sorry that the venturers will be taking Nyip, for he has been a witty companion, but he will be happy to finally leave, and safely as well. The venturers exchange parting pleasantries with the clockwork Serpent Emir, and she tells them they will be welcome again in her house should they return.

They ask if she would like to leave as well. “I could leave at any time,” she says, regarding the back of her hand, “yet I could not move quietly, as I once did. And it is difficult to be… presiding all the time. Travel safely.”

The venturers return to the Twist of Fate. Nyip catches up with them partway, bowed under a pack full of the books he would rather not do without. The three introduce the kobold to the crew, and Captain Tairasha warns them that one of the island’s siege engines fired on the harbor not long ago.

“That was my fault,” says Attsu, “but it wasn’t fired at you, and it won’t be fired again without my command.”

Tairasha also introduces the three to the small group of rescued mutineers. A grizzled sailor called Waba the Martyr speaks for the group, thanking the venturers for their intervention. He tells them that the crew of the Fang of the Shaitan grew restless when their captain spent too much time listening to the sorcerer he’d brought aboard. After two dives, Barbafir ordered them to make ready to sail, having brought up only a portion of the shipwreck’s spoils (and therefore much less of a share for the crew). When they protested too strongly, he marooned the most outspoken on the Isle of Gears and then left. Waba knows their destination, though. Barbafir is sailing for the location where the Eye of Hunger will be in a week, for he is confident that he can bind the mighty marid there and plunder the manse of a jinn.

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43 - The Isle of Gears
The tale of a mistaken clockwork manse.

The wall of fog completely occludes the harbor where the Injustice, or rather the Phantasm, dropped anchor. The mist stays unnaturally solid even as the floating city of Zarat pushes forward through the ocean. The angry crowd of corsairs, the venturers among them, stops halfway down the dock towards the fog.

“We know you’re in there!” shouts Kismet.

“No, we don’t,” Aya quietly replies.

Aribasa the Splendid spends no time contemplating. “Get me fire bolts,” she says, and quickly a contingent of corsairs forms behind her, readying bows and crossbows with blazing arrowheads. “Loose!” she commands, and the corsairs fire into the fog bank. A long, quiet moment passes. Then Attsu’s incredibly keen eyes pick out a few extinguished arrows floating in the dark water downcurrent from the fog bank. “The ship’s not there,” he says.

The Firstmost asks for volunteers to pursue, and every captain present offers their ship — even Bulukh, who then catches himself and asks if the venturers need his services. They offer their blessing, and he commits the Thunder Star to the hunt as well.

Tairasha asks if the Twist of Fate should join the pursuit or hasten to the shipwreck. The venturers decide to chase Barbafir instead. But before they return to their ship, Attsu whispers the name “Zaerdahil” to the Hunter Jewel and receives a direction. He points the direction of the Phantasm out to Aribasa, who thanks him and sets the pursuers on the trail.

As the other corsair ships prepare to make sail after the Phantasm, the venturers and Tairasha return to the Twist of Fate. They ask Tiyesha and Hajuda if the two would prefer to remain on Zarat with Eremit until the business is concluded. Eremit speaks up and says she’s more interested in the affair at hand, and she might prefer to travel along while the Sea Oasis is being repaired. Hajuda agrees, and Tiyesha says she’ll feel safe with the gallant captain defending her. “Yeah,” growls Kismet. “We should go find your husband.”

The Twist of Fate sets sail that night. Barbafir’s wives continue to contribute tension to the voyage, to the consternation of Kismet. Notch at least finds some amusement in the situation, though he worries that if it becomes any more entertaining, his wound will reopen.

The ship reaches the Isle of Gears safely, and it is the first time any of the venturers have looked on its peculiar sights. The lone harbor on the island is dominated by two large brass-colored towers with clockwork cranes, looming over an asymmetrical collection of stone quays. Farther up the shore, a great metal gate stands open across the road to the heart of the island.The quays feature both metallic docks and odd rectangular slabs of similar metal, and the venturers soon notice that the two features are the same — docks that fold up like pleats.

And at the end of one of the docks, a small group of people in sailors’ garb wave and shout at the ship. The dock underneath their feet is moving, folding up into its compressed form and threatening to drop them unceremoniously into the water. A trio of menacing clockwork humanoids stand on the quay to block the sailors’ escape, and as the venturers watch, a metallic shark’s fin the size of a capstan breaks the water.

Aya calls up a wind immediately. Tairasha attempts to pull the ship alongside the docks to rescue the stranded sailors, but misjudges the distances at exactly the wrong time. He draws too close to the dock, scraping the hull, and before the Twist of Fate can recover, one of the tower cranes drops something from above. A long, metallic length of bridge falls, the hooks on one end landing over the ship’s rail and the other end landing on the quay. As the crew is still taking stock of the new situation, the clockworks march onto the bridge and advance on the ship.

The automata are an intimidating trio. Two of them are modeled like soldiers, carrying long elaborate halberds, their masks bronze caricatures of authoritarian human faces. The third is a brazen hulk in the form of a minotaur, its engraved nostrils puffing out steam from some internal furnace. The three advance up the makeshift boarding ramp, the brass minotaur lowering its head and digging its hoofs in.

Attsu speeds down the ramp, transforming into his war form and blocking the minoton before it can charge. Kismet and Tairasha quickly flank him, each one opposing one of the more humanoid clockworks, while Notch and Aya strike from afar. Wind-of-Embers chooses to move closer to the ship’s fore and help the stranded sailors aboard. While Attsu’s armored form is more than able to hold the center, one of the other clockworks deals a nasty wound to Tairasha, pushing him back. Notch’s arrows rain off armored plates instead of finding gaps as the frustrated gnoll tries to support his captain.

Cat overpowers bull, and Attsu finally tears the wounded and frost-weakened minoton apart. Kismet disengages from her opponent and jumps between her beleaguered captain and the other clockwork, her compass blade slicing away vital components in its joints. The final clockwork doesn’t last long under the venturers’ full attention — overbalanced when it loses one of its arms, it topples off the metallic boarding ramp and into the water, where the mechanical shark immediately drags it under.

Wind-of-Embers sees to Tairasha’s wounds as the crew works to lever the heavy metallic plank off the ship and into the harbor. The formerly stranded corsairs thank the venturers effusively for their rescue. Their leader reveals that they were all sailors aboard the Fang of the Shaitan under Barbafir Bloodmouth, but their captain marooned them for speaking out against his mad quest and the unlikable wizard who has served as his advisor.

The group is interrupted as another clockwork rolls along the dock and calls out to Attsu. The odd machine is built to resemble a scholar or advisor in distinctive courtly attire, at least from the waist up — it rolls on a metallic sphere in place of legs. The automaton carries a scribe’s tablet and a brass stylus, and it berates Attsu much as a harried vizier might. “You are quite late, my lord,” it says. “I have been looking everywhere for you. Come, you have duties to perform.”

Attsu’s lenses iris shut in the equivalent of a blink. “What duties?”

“You must reprimand a guard for dereliction of duty,” says the clockwork scribe as it consults its tablet. “Review the scheduled parade drill. And oversee the installation of a new trebuchet.”

Attsu shrugs, and follows along, a very curious Kismet and Aya after him. The automaton leads them up the grand steps under the jann-faced gate — rolling up a groove-like gutter at the side of the stairway — and as they crest the rise, they get their first glimpse of the interior of the Isle of Gears. A strange town — a city, even — with towers more metal than stone that shine like polished lamps in the sun. Plumes of smoke hint at forges that still burn, and small figures pace back and forth on balconies like the sculptures on an ornate clock.

Rather than descending into the Isle of Gears proper, the scribe turns a sharp right and leads the group up another set of stairs, to a manse that sits atop one of the island’s barrier cliffs. As they enter under the elaborate portico, a pair of automata half-built into the wall, as much relief as guardsman, tap the butts of their spears on the floor. The doors open, and Attsu follows the scribe into the manse proper.

The interior of the building is also made largely of metal in various bronzes and brasses, with streaks of steel or silver here and there. More servants emerge to greet the “returning lord,” including a pair of maids who also have spheres in place of legs. The scribe guides the group into a modest audience hall, where Attsu is seated on a throne-like bench. Then a pair of human-form clockwork guards very like those who assaulted the Twist of Fate enter the room, supporting between them a third. But the third has been so heavily damaged that it seems utterly inoperational — its head creaks to one side, its arms are partly crushed, a deep gash is open down its central breastplate, and its right leg is missing from the mid-thigh.

After a short pause, the scribe speaks. “My lord, you should reprimand this guard for failing to report to his post at the assigned time. He was in a shameful state when found.”

“This… ‘state’ is why he did not report,” says Attsu in a somewhat incredulous tone.

“Yes,” clicks the scribe. “It is a disgraceful display.”

“Well,” muses Attsu. “He should be repaired.”

“Reconstituted?” says the scribe.

“Um. …Yes?”

The scribe raises its stylus arm toward the soldiers. “Behold the mercy of our lord who forgives you your fault. Take him to be reconstituted.” And with that, the soldiers carry their broken comrade back out of the room.

The scribe then guides Attsu and his two companions to a balcony of the manse that overlooks a small marble-paved square. A small group of clockworks soldiers stand at attention there. From the look of the patina coating them, and their faltering movements as the parade drill begins, it is clear that they have been in the weather for a few months and seen their share of tropical rain. They fall back into attention as best they can, although one soldier’s halberd remains stuck at an odd angle.

“This is terrible!” shouts Attsu, striking the rail with one hand. “They should all be refurbished.”

“Of course, my lord,” says the scribe as Aya and Kismet look askance at their mechanical comrade. It raises its voice to address the square. “Report to the foundry.” And the soldiers march, as best as their corroded and weather-beaten frames are able, from the square.

The final duty takes them from the manse along the cliff line, to one of the squat towers that line the island. On the roof of the tower, a pair of clockworks with humanoid torsos and spiderlike lower bodies bow and scurry back away from their work, a huge mechanical trebuchet with several large spheres of ammunition nearby. The defensive weapon seems to have been much better maintained than the drilling soldiers, despite its same exposure to the elements.

“What shall its name be?” asks the scribe, pausing to make a note on its tablet’s wax.

Attsu thinks for a moment. “Vera.”

The scribe dutifully records the strange Northern name. “Would you like to test it?” It gestures toward the cove below, where the Twist of Fate sits at a respectful distance from the mechanical docks and towers.

“Yes,” says Attsu, “let’s test the range. As loooong as possible.”

“As you command.” The spidery engineers roll one of the spheres into the trebuchet, make adjustments to the gears on its side, and then with a massive echoing sound, it fires. The swing arm launches the sphere far out to sea, landing well on the far side of the Twist of Fate with a tremendous plume of spray. From the tower, the venturers’ shipmates appear no more than tiny specks racing around in a great state of agitation. But also from the tower, the three are able to see a mangled clockwork figure on the cliff below — one that has some design elements in common with Attsu, and that appears to have been rendered inoperable from a fall from the tower’s roof.

As the scribe guides Attsu and the others back to the manse, one of the maidservants rolls up to meet them. She offers a small box to Attsu. “Ah,” says the scribe, “of course. Your new signet is ready, my lord.”

Attsu opens the box, and within is a ring set, oddly enough, with a rich orange cat’s-eye gemstone. The setting of the ring is interlocking gear-toothed bands of gold and adamant, and as Attsu slides the ring onto his finger, the tiny mechanisms contract the band and lock it onto his finger as though it had been part of his original design. Attsu feels an odd warmth from the ring — clearly a form of jinn magic.

“That concludes the business for today, my lord.” The scribe rolls alongside them as they resume toward the manse. “I shall prepare a list of your duties for tomorrow.”

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42 - The Flames and the False
The tale of a fire, a masquerade, and a poisoner.

As the others investigate the Injustice, Wind-of-Embers sits with Barbafir Bloodmouth’s wives in the Sea Oasis, a ward against any potential trouble. She easily falls into talking about drink and food with Eremit, who is rather worldly in her tastes. When Hajuda and particularly Tiyesha seem somewhat threatened by the easy confidence and capability of their senior sister-wife, Wind-of-Embers neatly cuts away part of the tension. She subtly encourages Tiyesha and Eremit to discuss wine, and when Hajuda seems at a loss to participate, engages the orcish foundry-worker in a discussion of iron. All four women are having an interesting conversation about the art of glassblowing and bottle-making when the eastern wall of the Sea Oasis goes up on flames.

The wineshop explodes into chaos. Many of the sailors push immediately out the door, half of them shouting to cut the Sea Oasis’ raft free before the fire spreads. Hajuda hastens Tiyesha out the door, leaving Eremit, Wind-of-Embers, and a few of the braver patrons inside. As Eremit hurls water on the flames, Wind-of-Embers uses her enchanted earring to contact Aya. No sooner has she told the sorceress to have Kismet to bring the Dolphin Jewel to the wineshop than one of the fire-fighting volunteers pulls a knife and thrusts it at her heart, while two of the others attempt to seize Eremit.

Aya stares at the false Injustice, trying to recall some means of dispelling an illusion of that magnitude and remembering only stern warnings never to interfere with the elaborate illusions set about the Queen of Birds’ palace. The voice of Wind-of-Embers stirs her from her reverie. She obligingly sets about looking for Kismet, but completely fails to spot any sign of the elusive elf sailor.

Aya is not the only one. The Injustice crew overlooks her as they attempt to keep eyes on Attsu, shouting and firing arrows and bolts after him. He splits away from Kismet, deliberately continuing to draw their attention and fire. A bolt lodges in a crevice between his shoulder plating and torso, and the shifting metal shears it off as he runs, spitting out the mangled tip. He makes it to the main thoroughfare, still in cat form, and makes it well out of the ship’s line of sight. He pauses in a nearby shadow to listen to the rising uproar. The shouts come from all sides, but the two most prominent threads are “Fire! At the Sea Oasis!” from one side and “The Guide was attacked!” from the other.

Aya is still looking about for Kismet when Ramjat flies down to her, crying out news. “The Sea Oasis is aflame! And there is a fight aboard the Twist of Fate!” Aya takes to the air, the bird maiden’s cloak transforming her arms to wings. From above she easily sees the fire at the wineshop — but chooses to keep going towards her ship.

Wind-of-Embers moves almost without thinking. She takes a step away, just out of the jambiya’s reach, and calls upon the power of the Curved Flame. The blessing of Hakasarre settles on Eremit, flooding her with great strength, and with a second prayer Wind-of-Embers hurls a blazing javelin that slays one of the assailants and burns another. Eremit, still grappling with the two attempting to abduct her, elbows one of them in the ribs. The strike is like the kick of a mule, breaking several of the man’s ribs and sending him stumbling back. The elf wineseller pulls free from the second man as easily as an ogre might, a surprised look upon her face.

Kismet leaps from raft to raft, moving through the floating city. She’s confident that none of the false Injustice sailors are pursuing her when she sees the fire up ahead. She calls on the Dolphin Jewel, and dives into the sea, swimming in that direction with a conjured water elemental by her side.

Aya flies to the Twist of Fate, where several crew members have formed a cautious circle around a cloaked intruder with a peculiar posture. A wounded Notch leans against the mainmast, clutching his bleeding side and baring his teeth in a painful grin. Aya lands in the rigging, her wings becoming arms again, and sends a freezing blast of wind down toward the invader. The figure vaults away from her attack, landing with inhuman grace on the rail. Aya sees strange armor below the cloak, and realizes the invader may be a clockwork.

Attsu weighs both sources of alarm, and then races away from the Sea Oasis, pursuing the shouts about the attack on the Guide. Soon he reaches a small crowd where a few ranking corsairs are describing the attack. Several of the Guide’s guards were killed, but the attackers were forced to fall back. Thankfully, the attackers were seen — a white-haired sorceress, an elf woman, and a man made of metal. Attsu softly curses the ways of illusionists and fades into an alley, where he gathers his caftan about him and assumes the form of a dwarf.

Wind-of-Embers sends another fire javelin into the man with broken ribs, ending his pain. She shouts to Eremit to take one for questioning. The other knife-wielder considers his situation and flees the building. The remaining would-be kidnapper makes one last try to subdue Eremit, but with her divinity-infused strength, the dark-skinned elf wraps an arm around his throat and chokes him out. As she does so, a wave of seawater crashes against the wineshop’s blazing wall, extinguishing most of the fire. Eremit starts, and looks over at Wind-of-Embers.

“Your doing?”

Wind-of-Embers shakes her head as the elemental brings another wave of water against the fire. “A friend.”

Eremit nods, not quite confidently, and hefts the unconscious sailor over her shoulder. She pauses, suddenly taken with the ease of the gesture. “The blessing of Hakasarre,” says Wind-of-Embers. “It won’t last forever. Let’s go outside.” They do so, and as the water elemental quenches the last of the flames, they meet with Kismet, who has been joined by Hajuda and Tiyesha.

Farther up the island, the clockwork assassin is in full flight, with Aya pursuing. She hurls another bolt after the fleeing construct, but it is too swift, and she manages only to freeze a clothesline of laundry. Aya sends Ramjat ahead to keep the clockwork in sight, and simply moves up the main street. She conjures a small wind to carry her words to Kismet — “Notch is wounded. Get Wind-of-Embers to the ship.” That done, she loses sight of Ramjat almost immediately.

As Attsu continues to eavesdrop on the crowd, a striking figure arrives — Captain Aribasa the Splendid, corsair queen of the Gilded Peacock, Firstmost of the Seahawk Fleet, flanked by a pair of her seconds. She demands explanations. The more disciplined members of the crowd tell her what they know of the attack on the zaratan’s Guide — and then a tattooed woman wearing the colors of an Injustice corsair suggests that the culprits match the descriptions of sailors on the Twist of Fate. Attsu sticks close by as Aribasa, followed by the mob, marches toward the harbor.

With the fire at the Sea Oasis extinguished, Kismet and Wind-of-Embers race to the Twist of Fate. Ruska meets them as they arrive, telling them that Notch is badly injured. Wind-of-Embers examines the wound and discovers that the gnoll was shot by a quarrel-like metal bolt poisoned with some kind of hemotoxin. Notch chuckles through the pain and says that his attacker looked “like Attsu’s shore woman.” The priestess calls on Hakasarre to fill her hands with healing power, and the wound closes, the discoloration fading and the fur regrowing over the new skin.

Notch’s ears twitch. “Impressive.” The gnoll chuckles. “The healing, not the wound… ah, all right, I admit that the wound was also impressive.”

Attsu, carefully split ahead from the others, also heads to the ship. Aya considers the likelihood that the clockwork has already doubled back, and decides to return to the Twist of Fate as well. As she walks back, Ramjat rejoins her, both apologizing for losing sight of the clockwork but confirming that it seemed to also double back to the harbor.

Attsu arrives before Aya, warning his companions that a large mob of angry corsairs led by a Firstmost are on the way. Aya, quite ruffled, appears soon after. With all the venturers present at once, they explain the entire situation to Tairasha: the false Injustice, the illusionist, the attempt to frame the venturers for an attack on the Guide, and most likely the clockwork assassin as well.

“What do we do, then?” Captain Tairasha’s brow is stormy. “Do we hide? Do we flee?”

“No,” says Aya. “We expose the whole thing.”

The venturers and the Twist of Fate crew stand firm as seemingly half the corsairs in Zarat amass on their dock. Aribasa is at the front, with not only her seconds beside her, but the corsair captains Bachuun the Bottler and Turgura the Cannibal as well. Tairasha goes down to the dock as Aribasa levels the charges against him of sheltering violators, attackers who struck at the heart of Zarat itself. Tairasha responds by stating that they were framed by an illusionist, as Kismet and Aya and Attsu walk down to stand with him.

“Look among your own ranks,” says Attsu. “See who is conspicuously absent among you.”

Aribasa muses on their words, and does as Attsu asks. Kismet produces the manifest of the Phantasm and hands it to Aribasa, telling her they found it on the ship posing as the Injustice. The Firstmost leafs through the manifest as one of her seconds holds a light close. Finally the corsair queen nods. “The Phantasm. I see. I know its captain by reputation — Zaerdahil. He could do this…”

Finally, Aribasa bows to Aya and apologizes. She turns to speak to the crowd, saying that there is reason enough to doubt and look further. She rallies the others to address the threat to security, and promises they will discover the truth from the Injustice or the Phantasm, whichever it may be. The venturers and Tairasha march alongside the Firstmost and the other captains — Bulukh the Buffalo now among them as well — to the docks where the Injustice is moored. But as they arrive, they see a thick fog bank where the ship should be…

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41 - The Injustice and the Phantasm
The tale of a false captain helming a false ship.

Attsu is the first through the curtain into the Sea Oasis, the others just behind him. Within the wineship, a mid-afternoon standoff between two corsair crews seems to be building to a pitch. On the one side, a trio of sailors wearing the black and red that seems to mark them as from the Injustice; the other faction wear odd gilded baubles that seem to resemble bottles, the mark of the Grand Elixir. Two younger wine-sellers watch nervously, and a dark-skinned elf woman with white braids eyes the fractious corsairs with more cynicism as one of the Injustices tells one of the Elixirs that he was expelled from a broken-faced gargoyle.

Attsu is still sizing up the largest and likely most dangerous sailors in each crew when the enforcer from the Elixir draws a jambiya. Attsu’s chain-whip flicks out, wrapping around the corsair’s blade and embedding it deep into a table before its owner can so much as object. “Calm down,” rumbles the clockwork man. “This is not the place.”

The Grand Elixir crew take a few steps back. The Injustices tense, hands on the hilts of their weapons, but the leader of the trio glances to a corner. The well-dressed, blond elf there makes a gesture, and the three corsairs stand down. The elf rises from his chair and approaches with a peaceable smile; Kismet and Aya recognize him as Caeril Sunhair, the Northlander turned corsair-captain of the Injustice. “I admire your consideration for the peace of the city,” Caeril says to Attsu. “You are a reasonable… man.” He gestures to his men, and the group leaves the Sea Oasis.

The white-braided elven woman sets an extra bottle on the table where the Grand Elixir corsairs drink, saying “Thank you for being slow to anger.” Then she invites the Twist of Fate venturers to sit at an empty table. “Please, have a drink, on me.” She glances back at Attsu. “…Do you drink?”

“No,” says Attsu, “but please see to my friends.”

The venturers, Hajuda, and Tiyesha sit down, and the white-haired woman pours cups of quite good wine. She asks their business, and they tell her that they’re searching for Eremit, the wife of Barbafir Bloodmouth. “Your arduous journey is at an end, then,” their hostess remarks. “I am Eremit.”

The venturers explain the situation, that the Ascending Flame — in particular the Uncrowned Unnat al-Shim and his captains — are hunting Barbafir’s wives to draw him out and capture him. Hajuda speaks up to confirm the risk. Eremit regards her two sister wives for the first time, and all three women carefully evaluate one another with varying levels of confidence. Aya leans in and diplomatically smooths away the tensions with light conversation, while Attsu stands and leaves the wineshop for a moment.

Outside, Attsu scans the area. He notes a man a few piers over sitting with his feet in the water, and recognizes him as one of the Injustice sailors with his red and black sashes removed. Attsu reenters the wineshop, shifts into his scouting cat form, and leaves via the opposite window. He climbs onto the roof of the Sea Oasis and speaks the name “Barbafir Bloodmouth” to the Hunter Jewel — and yet there is no response.

Inside, Eremit seems quite won over by Aya’s charm. She explains that the Crocodile Jewel obscures Barbafir from divination, which is no doubt why the Ascending Flame must use such conventional methods to draw him out. “Like a crocodile at the bottom of a river,” muses Aya. Eremit also states that Barbafir has been boasting of a grand heist and bringing her a sultan’s ransom in treasure. He seems convinced that he can rob the Eye of Hunger itself.

Aya informs the others that some jinn sometimes create domains in the mortal world, elemental manses where they can enjoy dominion away from their other powerful and noble kin. Shahzada Warralash the Engulfing likely has a manse of his own at the bottom of the great whirlpool, and if he could somehow be compelled to bring it to the surface, then perhaps it could be robbed.

“Well,” says Eremit, “Barbafir is out hunting for a shipwreck. It must be part of his plan. He’s often said salvage is beneath him, and that he prefers robbing ships above the water. I don’t know where it is, precisely… but I have seen the charts.”

“Can you mark our charts if we bring them?” asks Aya. Eremit nods.

Kismet heads out to the Twist of Fate to retrieve copies of the ship’s lesser charts. As she leaves, Attsu notices from his perch on the roof that the Injustice sailor takes out a mirror and seems to be evaluating his personal grooming. But Attsu’s unblinking lenses pick out something very odd — the face in the mirror is not the sailor’s. The mirror seems to be an enchanted tool of communication.

Attsu slips back into the wineshop as Kismet returns, stationing himself near the door. He tells the others about the Injustice spy’s mirror as Eremit marks the charts. Aya and Kismet think back to their brief encounter with Caeril Sunhair, and both women immediately flash to the same realization: the elf spoke with a faint Khavayish accent, not like a Northerner from across the Jadesea. Aya’s first thought is “illusionist!” The two women rapidly speculate that someone has taken over the Injustice — or is it the Injustice at all, or another ship disguised with a grander illusion? The venturers decide they must investigate, and swiftly.

The venturers’ plan is to infiltrate the Injustice once it’s dark. Eremit offers to feed them in the meantime, and sends one of the shop attendants to purchase kebabs from a local street vendor. More sailors fill the wineshop as the day lengthens and ends, the crews of various ships including a few from the Gilded Peacock and a different shift of Injustice crew members.

Kismet moves over to the Injustice table, and begins socializing with the crew there. The sailors — the quartermaster, a mate, and a veteran corsair — are sociable in return. They chat about several things, and Kismet discreetly inquires if they’ve taken any notable prizes of late. The mate claims that they took an Izir ship of late; the finest goods are destined for trade on the Plunder Market, but they claimed some interesting things among their share of the spoils, particularly some fine glasswork. Kismet leans in and asks if she might take a personal look. The quartermaster is amenable; he notes that he wouldn’t mind making a profit of his own, and he has a very interesting glass dagger as part of his share.

“All right,” says Kismet, “let’s go have a look. Another wine for the road?”

“No,” grins the quartermaster. “If I’m to barter this evening, I want to be sober for it.”

“That sounds reasonable,” she replies. “Then I’ll pass on the wine as well.” The small group pays for their wine and makes to leave, with the one sailor dashing off to relieve himself, letting the others know he’ll catch up.

Kismet wanders with the crewmen to the Injustice, chatting the whole time. Attsu keeps her in sight, following discreetly in his scouting cat form. Aya follows even farther behind, though she sends Ramjat ahead to keep a bird’s eye view on the group.

The Injustice sailors welcome Kismet aboard, teasing her a bit but otherwise being respectful. She goes belowdecks to the quartermaster’s living space; he has a small cabin of his own, and she follows him in. While his two companions wait outside, he opens up a small chest and withdraws a sheathed knife. He presents it to her — and then, gripping the sheath, he draws it and slashes at her in a single motion. Time seems to slow for Kismet, and she sees a tarry, glistening substance on the metal blade, and smells a numbing scent…

Yet, if any sailor on the Jadesea has ever known the kindnesses of Fate, it is Kismet. As the Injustice quartermaster finishes drawing the knife, he lashes out too quickly, and slices his own thumb in the process. He staggers, stares dumbly at his bleeding thumb, says “unflurba,” and then falls to the floor with a heavy thump. A voice through the closed door asks if everything is fine in there, and Kismet calls back with a quick reassurance.

Attsu creeps up one of the lines and into the hold of the Injustice. Voices filter down from abovedecks, as the sailors talk of being ready to catch “the cat.” He prowls through the darkened ship until he reaches the cabin where the quartermaster’s two companions wait outside the closed door — one carrying a long rope, the other a buckler and belaying pin, and both waiting for Kismet or their crewmate to exit. Attsu races toward them, transforming into his war form. The two goggle at the massive metal shape looming quickly into the lamplight.

“Meow,” says Attsu.

He takes one sailor’s head in each hand and bounces the two corsairs skull-first off the nearby bulkhead. The two fall unconscious to the ground, and Attsu reunites with Kismet, who is already looting the cabin. She takes books, a few spare charts, a valuable bauble or two, and then she finds a ship’s manifest. Kismet turns quickly to the latest entries, where she discovers that the ship resupplied in Izir — rather than at the expense of an Izir ship — and the name mentioned in the manifest is not the Injustice, but rather the Phantasm.

The two decide to leave the ship the way Attsu came in, wriggling through a porthole and taking a line to the pier. Kismet makes it quietly, but Attsu is not so lucky. As the two race through the darker, narrower streets of Zarat, a cry goes up: “There! It’s the cat!”

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40 - The City of Corsairs
The tale of the voyage to seagoing Zarat.

As Tairasha’s crew continues to secure the Iron Wrath, Aya looks back to the battle between the Thunder Star and its remaining pursuer. She calls up a powerful wind and sends it their way. The gale throws the Golden Leopard off-balance, and Bulukh’s ship takes immediate advantage. The Thunder Star rams its opponent full in the side, leaving the Shining Hand vessel stuck on a sandbar with a hole in its hull. Within a few minutes, Aya sees the gold-turbaned captain attempting to negotiate a conditional surrender with Bulukh.

Several of the crew go below to free the galley slaves, Wind-of-Embers prominently among them. The elven priest breaks several manacles with her dragonlike gauntlet, and renders first aid to the rowers that had been thrown about when their oars were sheared away. She notes another slave, an older, scarred man missing a leg below the knee, also helping the others. Across the older slave’s back is a tattoo resembling an uneven battlement — the sign of a Sentinel of the Broken Wall. She lets him see the Sentinel-marked earring she wears, and he immediately recognizes it.

“Are you a sister?” he asks.

“A friend,” she replies.

The older man gives his name as Nakam, along with his thanks. He claims to be a swordmaster called the Driving Storm, and offers what skills he possesses to repay his debt.

Once the securing of the Iron Wrath is complete, Aya, Wind-of-Ember, and Kismet move to the Thunder Star where Bulukh the Buffalo is negotiating the surrender from the captain of the Golden Leopard. The massive bugbear turns to the venturers, and then his ferocious demeanor changes completely. “A thousand blessings rain down on you from Heaven for the aid you have rendered us today,” he rumbles. With somewhat roughshod but earnest courtesy he thanks them for their assistance. He introduces his officers as well, the badly burn-scarred bugbear woman “Charcoal” Huuna, and the ship’s navigator and quartermaster Izmid, also called “Golden Trousers.”

The venturers tell Bulukh that they came to assist because of Zan. The bugbear captain’s brow furrows. “I owe him a debt heavier than a caravan of gold,” he says. Kismet explains that Zan is part of their fleet, utterly failing to correct Bulukh’s assumption that Tairasha is their commodore. Zan, the venturers elaborate, gave them the advice to seek out Bulukh because he believed Bulukh could take them to Zarat, City of Corsairs. They tell him that they wish to speak to Barbafir Bloodmouth — they have two of his wives in tow, and he is pursued by the Ascending Flame.

“Are you with them?” mutters Bulukh, glancing over at Aya in her sorceress’s garb.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “We oppose them.”

Bulukh considers for a moment, then nods. “Very well! Do you wish me to carry you to Zarat in my ship, or to escort yours?”

That particular question, as it so happens, is more difficult to answer. The venturers return to the Twist of Fate and ask Tairasha his opinion. The captain admits that their safety at the moving city might depend on which of the Firstmost are present — he has some… difficulties with Stony Barun of the Periapt Fleet, but Jalya the Sea Jackal, head of the Siren Fleet is… friendlier. “She likes him,” Aya smiles under her breath.

The discussion closes with the agreement that the Twist of Fate will follow Bulukh to Zarat. If something were to go horribly wrong — a premise the venturers are not inclined to dismiss — it seems safer for Bulukh if he could more easily disavow his “guests,” and it would indeed be easier if he did not carry them personally to the city. The group meets again with Bulukh. After a discussion of what to do with the prisoners — for Bulukh and the goblins are happy with the thought of executing them, but Tairasha objects strongly — they reach a consensus to maroon both crews in the Necklace, where there are still several uninhabited islands near shipping lanes that would suffice.

And with that done, another celebratory feast takes place. The supplies of both Shining Hands ships help stock the meal. Wind-of-Embers helps with the food preparation and makes certain that everyone eats, from goblins to freed slaves to captured slave hunters. The celebration lasts into the evening, even as the goblins begin the process of stripping both captured ships of the finest trappings.

The next day the Thunder Star and Twist of Fate set out for Zarat. The Twist of Fate carries a portion of the prisoners, and both captured captains, in an effort to encourage cooperation between both crews. As the Golden Leopard surrendered more swiftly, its surviving crew outnumbers that of the Iron Wrath, and the venturers are keenly aware of the potential power disparity. They maroon both crews with a few tools, and tell them that as long as they cooperate they will likely survive nicely. The two ships then sail away, with certain crew members idly wagering on the odds of the Shining Hands not turning on one another.

Two days later, they sight Zarat. The corsair city, small by compare to Adwa but much larger than the typical island village of the Necklace, sprawls about the coast of a three-peaked island miles across that seems to be moving through the sea. As the two ships draw nearer, Kismet recalls fanciful tales of the zaratan — and she dives into the water, the Dolphin Jewel with her. She sees something moving that at first she takes for the largest whale shark she’s ever seen — but then she makes out that is merely a flipper, the size of a harbor town, and that the floating island of Zarat is the tree-lined shell of a truly colossal sea turtle.

Bulukh guides the Twist of Fate to the docks protruding from the forward part of the great zaratan’s shell. They pass districts of chained rafts, noting that nearly the entirety of the city seems designed to remain afloat should the gigantic beast submerge for any reason. Tairasha keeps a careful eye on the other ships docked at the city. He names the Injustice, the Bloody Lion, the Grand Elixir, and the Gilded Peacock, flagship of the Firstmost corsair Aribasa the Splendid. Tairasha seems moderately satisfied that none of his more dangerous rivals are present, and notes that Aribasa is an admirer of the Queen of Birds, should Aya have reason to strike up a conversation.

An immense, bald woman, seemingly part ogre, meets the ships at the dock. Bulukh greets the Harbormaster Ula and vouches for the Twist of Fate and its crew. The bugbear captain tells the tale of the battle with the Shining Hands, which seems to impress Ula. She claps Tairasha on the back with a sound like a thunderclap. The massive harbormaster sternly warns the venturers of the city’s dangers, then smiles broadly and welcomes them to Zarat.

Hajuda and Tiyesha look about the corsair city with some nervousness, but the two seem sufficiently concerned about Barbafir’s first wife to brave the unfamiliar and likely dangerous port. Aya asks Harbormaster Ula for directions to Eremit’s wineshop. Ula names it the Sea Oasis, and points out the way. The venturers have no difficulty finding it: a sturdy floating structure with decorations painted in a fresh green. But as they draw near, the group hears furious voices raised inside…

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39 - The Search for the Thunder Star
The tale of the hundred freed goblin slaves.

Attsu, Kismet, Aya, and Wind-of-Embers assemble on the docks in the early morning, as the tides are rising, to embark once again on the quest for the Crocodile Jewel. Barbafir Bloodmouth’s wives, Hajuda and Tiyesha, go to the Twist of Fate with them, though the two women are clearly suffering from excessive drink and too little sleep. By contrast, as Lightning Zan and Katifa arrive, the two seem unfairly energetic and alert.

The two groups reaffirm their pursuit of the Crocodile and Maiden Jewels, respectively. Zan carefully offers, without offering, the other group an opportunity to say that they might prefer to chase the Maiden Jewel to Uur Iblim instead. But Kismet reassures Zan that he and his crew will be able to handle the fallen ogre kingdom, tales of degenerate flesh-eating ogres aside. Zan ruefully agrees, and then tells the others of his contact among the corsairs. Bulukh the Buffalo is the captain of the Thunder Star, and was formerly a galley slave on a Pashkuni ship. Zan played a part in freeing Bulukh, and ever since the emancipated corsair has targeted Pashkuni ships in particular. At present, Zan informs them, Bulukh has been dropping off other liberated slaves, primarily goblins, by Mosaic Island, where they have established a ragged settlement of their own.

Attsu takes the Hunter Jewel, and whispers the name “Bulukh the Buffalo” to it. “Well,” says Zan, one eyebrow raised, “that would also work.” The group begins discussing the possibility of tracking a name to Zarat, such as Barbafir’s senior wife Eremit, though Aya points out that they will likely need a Free Brethren ship such as Bulukh’s to vouch for them if they wish to near the corsair city safely. Hajuda throws the exhausted Tiyesha over her shoulder during the conversation, and finally it is resolved — the Twist of Fate will head for Mosaic Island or Bulukh, whichever seems closer, while the Fire-Eater sets a course for the ogre kingdom of Uur Iblim.

The Twist of Fate sets out, and Attsu uses the Hunter Jewel to track the location of Bulukh, and presumably the Thunder Star as well. Aya and Tairasha’s navigational skills help them triangulate the position of their quarry. They determine that Bulukh is not presently at Mosaic Island, but he may be drawing nearer. So they set sail for the island, with the intention of waiting there.

Once the Twist of Fate reaches Mosaic Island, they sail around the northern side, rather than passing the settlement of mixed-bloods on the main island. There they spy a much smaller satellite isle, a short swim from the larger, where a mismatched shantytown has been built from local timbers and at least one wrecked ship. A small community of mostly goblinkin move about the shantytown, most wearing hats or scarves to keep the light out of their eyes.

The goblins grow excited as the Twist of Fate draws nearer, jumping and waving to the ship. When the ship drops anchor and begins lowering a boat, several goblins dive into the water and swim over. They jabber cheerful greetings to Aya and Attsu and Kismet, and escort the boat back over to their settlement. There Kismet leads the trade with some scarves and curios she’d picked up in Adwa, which the goblins exchange for various odd scraps of salvage that have been decorated with materials such as mother-of-pearl. Aya wins the hearts of many goblins by passing out candy until the chief, Boss One-Eye, pushes his way into the conversation.

The goblins continue to seem pleasant until the venturers bring up Bulukh, and then the crowd goes very important. The venturers explain that they are not enemies: they need his help. “He is very important here,” says Boss One-Eye suspiciously. Aya gracefully says that they are friends to Bulukh’s cause, and they hope to be friends to him as well. Her charm swiftly wins over the goblins, who invite the venturers to stay for dinner. Their hospitality consists of mostly foods taken from the sea, such as fish cooked (or not cooked) in seaweed, shellfish such as sea urchin, and a few dishes incorporating coconuts brought over from the main island. Attsu, rather than eating, trades one of his throwing claws to an excited goblin in exchange for a parcel of the odd earthy, spicy pods harvested from an odd local strain of kelp. He tucks it away as a present for Wind-of-Embers, who is certain to devise something delicious to do with this particularly goblinish flavor.

Tairasha’s crew also does some more earnest trade with the goblins, in particular fetching a good selection of goods in exchange for a bundle of nails. But soon a whistle sounds from the Twist of Fate, followed quickly by a frenzied clanging from the goblin lookout. The word quickly passes through the camp that Bulukh is returning — and then more clanging erupts, and the frightened murmur that the Thunder Star is being pursued.

The venturers catch sight of three ships on the horizon, two chasing a third, and return to the Twist of Fate. Tairasha surveys the three with his spyglass, and notes soberly that the pursuers are Shining Hands — slave hunters and hired sails in the service of Pashkun, City of Chains. The Twist of Fate raises anchor and moves to assist the Thunder Star.

As the ships draw nearer, the venturers take stock of the three vessels. To the port of the Twist of Fate (and following on the starboard of the Thunder Star) is a bulky galley with a strong orcish contingent among its sailors and marines; on the other side, a sleeker ship with a gilded leopard figurehead. Aya has Tairasha thread the needle, passing the Thunder Star on their starboard side and intercepting the galley. As they pass Bulukh’s ship, they note a rag-tag mixed crew headed by a badly burn-scarred female bugbear, a chunky man wearing portions of the garb of a harem eunuch, and a burly male bugbear wearing a horned headdress at the ship’s helm. The two crews eye one another warily, but the Thunder Star seems to recognize the venturers as potential allies of convenience.

The galley, the Iron Wrath, changes course directly for the Twist of Fate, clearly recognizing it as a threat. As it plows through the waves, a tattooed mamluk hanging from the forestay by one hand, a ram becomes visible jutting from the galley’s prow. The Twist of Fate baits the Iron Wrath into a ramming maneuver, and then with a last-minute gale from Aya, changes courses to narrowly miss the collision and shear away the oars on the Iron Wrath’s port side.

Hooks fly from both crews, and the two ships grind together. Attsu runs along one of the spars and leaps down onto the galley’s deck, shifting into war form and letting out a fearsome roar. Several of the marines, both orc mamluk and human swordsman, fall back as a burly ogre advances and accepts his challenge. Attsu parries the ogre’s tremendous scimitar and locks up with his opponent as other sailors from the Twist of Fate leap aboard.

Both crews clash in a brutal melee. Kismet goes to Ruska’s aid against a powerfully built, scarred orc bosun. Attsu tears into the ogre, who shrugs away the wound. “I could use some more scars like that,” the massive warrior snarls. Attsu chuckles. “Oh, you’ll have scars.”

The captain fires a crossbow bolt that creases Aya’s skin. She retaliates with her aeromancy as Notch sends in deadly arrows to help clear the deck. Kismet aims a slash at the bosun’s neck, and as the scarred orc parries her blade, she pirouettes and opens his belly with a second slash. Behind her, the Twist of Fate crew cheers as Captain Tairasha, hale and uncursed, joins the boarding action.

The battle shifts swiftly in favor of the Twist of Fate. One of the few Iron Wrath crew members who manages to make it to the venturers’ ship is immediately struck by lightning, courtesy of Aya. Wind-of-Embers’ healing power saves the lives of several fellow crewmates, and the slave hunters have no such advantage themselves. Even the mighty ogre can turn aside only so many blows before Kismet cuts into an unguarded patch of flesh. As the ogre reels, Attsu stabs him in the throat with blazing firebrass claws, and before the brute can even topple backwards, Kismet kicks off his knee, leaps into the air, and beheads the ogre with a stroke.

The desert elf is no sooner back on the deck than she has raced over to the captain of the Iron Wrath. Surrounded by bodies, and with only a small number of reinforcements from the galley’s belowdecks, the captain contemplates the compass scimitar at his shoulder and Kismet’s stern gaze. She asks for his surrender, and he gives it.

“What should I do with him, captain?” she asks over her shoulder, more lightly.

Tairasha nods in approval. “Take him prisoner for now.” The other survivors of the Iron Wrath follow in their captain’s footsteps, and the crew of the Twist of Fate take them prisoner as the venturers turn their attention back to the Thunder Star and the ship that still opposes it.

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38 - The Feast of the Returned Souls
The tale of a splendid feast and mysterious gifts.

The return of Mashaar the Golden-Fingered occasions celebration. Her captains make plans for a feast, and even Abd is persuaded to say the quest for the Zodiac Jewels for an evening. The venturers disperse into Adwa to spend the evening and the next day in more pleasant pastimes before the festivities.

Aya notes that Tiyesha and Hajuda, the wives of Barbafir Bloodmouth, were likely growing very anxious as the venturers were diverted to rescue Mashaar’s soul instead of pursuing the corsair. The two are unlikely to be reassured by the further delay of a celebration. She visits the two, and convinces them to be patient just a little longer. Tiyesha sulkily agrees. With a little more grace, Hajuda says, “Barbafir is not a great man. …He’s not even a good man. But we would miss him.” Aya promises the two that they will do what they can as soon as they are able.

Kismet takes Nehedza’s spellbook and pays a visit on Harira, whom she finds enjoying a hookah in a small lounge dedicated to exotic smoke. After the requisite pleasantries, she presents the elven broker with the spellbook. One of Harira’s halfling aides examines the book through an odd pince-nez, and nods vigorously and wide-eyed. “That is certainly more than I had even hoped for,” says Harira with satisfaction. “I believe I should sweeten our deal.” Kismet declines to name an additional benefit, asking instead to think on it for a time. She does, however, accept a pull on Harira’s hookah, and is quite surprised when the world becomes painted in various shades of reflective gold.

The following day, Aya decides to visit Ilsissa, and invite her to the feast. She finds the Serpent Emir basking on a favorite stretch of wall. Ilsissa graciously accepts the invitation, and she and Aya spend some time chatting in the morning sun and turning the heads of passerby.

Wind-of-Embers visits the shrine to the drakhan deities to perform a necessary devotion: if there is to be a feast, a priest of Hakasarre must cook. She purchases an entire young bullock from a butcher, and has it brought to the shrine’s adjoining kitchen. Partway through the morning, she is surprised by Breskh and Tikha, who bring her the latest gossip, listen to the tale of her errand to the City of Flame, and sample the meat. They recognize the name “Baklasha of the Iron Spiral,” the ifrita that Axos mentioned as having an interest in Wind-of-Embers, or at least they recognize the Iron Spiral. After companions telll her what they know about the trading house, Wind-of-Embers invites them to the feast as well.

The feast begins that afternoon, with lavish amounts of food from fine delicacies to hearty dishes, many of which speak to the personality of the venturer who brought it. The group enjoys the opportunity to socialize with their fellows, guessing at who might have provided which dish. The orc ranger Ruzakh develops a friendship with the magical hound Haup, who was invited by Abd. Ilsissa makes the rounds graciously, and those venturers who guess at the true nature of the coral viper in woman’s form are particularly polite. The al-Tajat priest Rizazh is another guest of honor, and seems somewhat overwhelmed when both captains Navaad and Mara-Set flirt openly with him. Barbafir’s wives are also in attendance, and although they have enough drink over the afternoon to begin being disruptive, again Aya is able to smooth their ruffled feathers.

As the sun sets and the feast reaches one of its lulls, Mashaar has two giant-blooded assistants bring out a massive chest of dark wood and firebrass. She stands before the chest and begins to speak. “O my beloved children of my heart,” she says, “I would say that this day is the finest I have yet experienced, but each day I spend among you competes as the finest, for you are all such splendid persons and you fill my heart with pride. Yet it would be dishonest to pretend that something exceptional did not just happen; that we are not feasting because some among you dared so very much. It would be insulting to downplay the valor of these heroes.” She takes a set of keys, and unlocks the three dangerous-looking locks on the chest. “I owe you a thousand thousand thanks, and perhaps this may at least dull the edge of my debt.”

She opens the chest lid, and reaches deep within. She draws forth a bridle of braided metal and bright jewels. “Abd,” she says, and the paladin rises. “I believe you would cut a dashing figure on a steed of smokeless fire. And,” she smiles, “it would tweak the beards of the ifrit to see a man of virtue riding it.” Abd humbly takes the bridle, bows to Mashaar as she bows to him, and thanks her as she thanks him in turn.

Mashaar reaches into the chest again. “Kismet,” she says, and the elf sailor starts. Mashaar holds up a ring of dark silver wrought in geometric patterns, set with a large black stone. As Kismet approaches and takes the ring from Mashaar, she notes that the stone is set on a hinge, much as a ring that contains poison might. “This ring holds darkness,” says Mashaar. “It will cloud areas that must be clouded, and it will bring night when day will not do.” Kismet flushes and thanks Mashaar, and again Mashaar thanks her in turn.

“Aya,” she says, and the next item from the chest is a rich cloak the color of the sky on a winter morning, set about with feathers. Aya recognizes it at once — a bird maiden’s cloak. “This was given to my by bird maidens on my third voyage. I believe it would suit you well.” Aya takes the cloak, and as she does, Ramjat hops on the feather ruff. To the bird’s immense delight, the cloak’s plumage shifts colors to match his own. “Thank you,” says Aya, and “Thank you,” says Mashaar.

“Attsu.” Mashaar takes another garment from the chest, a rich violet kaftan. “You already have many forms. But as impressive as you are in each one, sometimes it might help to look like someone else.” She helps Attsu into the kaftan, then whispers a word, and like that, the mechanical man is gone, replaced by a dark-skinned dwarf in a kaftan. Attsu bows deeply and thanks her, and she thanks him in kind.

“Wind-of-Embers.” The elven priest looks surprised, and is cut off mid-protest. “Yes. Please, come up. You are not one of mine, but you aided my children in this dangerous gambit.” Breskh nudges Wind-of-Embers in the side, and rumbles “Don’t offend her” under her breath. Wind-of-Embers concedes, and approaches Mashaar. “Kuraakta,” she says, a drakhan word signifying grateful acceptance. Mashaar removes from the chest an elaborate gauntlet of steel and brass, fashioned in the likeness of a dragon’s claw. As Wind-of-Embers takes the gauntlet, Mashaar says, “When it is ready, this gauntlet will crush even stone or metal beneath its claws.”

“Things that fire cannot burn,” murmurs Wind-of-Embers. “Thank you so much.” “And thank you,” says Mashaar.

The feast breaks out into more boisterous celebration again, as the five venturers are exuberantly honored by their peers. Tiyesha and Hajuda seem more sober after the gifts, and an astute observer would deduce that the corsair’s wives are genuinely realizing the caliber of adventurer that surrounds them.

Wind-of-Embers introduces Tikha to Kismet at one point during the evening. They play a game of skill together, despite Tikha’s skepticism that Kismet would not lose at a game of chance, and become great friends over the course of the evening. The two discover they have much in common philosophically, and go on at length about the pleasure of playing by the rules from time to time in order to experience a challenge. Wind-of-Embers also introduces Breskh to Abd and Blessed Lirin. The three also find some commonality, although in much less outrageous fashion — certainly not to the point where Kismet and Tikha drunkenly plot to write a book.

The feast thus runs its length as a great success. In the small hours of the night, Tairasha asks the venturers if they still intend to leave tomorrow. “We should,” is the answer.

“And where do we sail?”

“Zarat.”

“Hmm. And how do you plan to find the City of Corsairs?”

“Zan says he knows someone,” says Aya, gesturing over to where Katifa is struggling to lever up a very drunken Lightning Zan and take him somewhere to rest.

“Ah,” says Tairasha. “Then I suppose we are in the hands of Fate.”

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37 - The Lantern and the Spindle
The tale of audacious theft and deathly hope.

As the cook cowers by the stone oven, the alarm bell ringing through the tower, Attsu leaves the kitchen behind and quickly returns to the stairs. From below, the venturers hear the tramp of heavy stone footfalls — certainly the two stone statues guarding Nehedza’s door have come to life. Abd turns to his comrades and says, “Find the lantern!” He then moves down the stairs towards the statues. Wind-of-Embers adds, “We will do our best. Move quickly,” and turns to follow Abd.

Kismet, Aya, and Abd make good use of their companions’ valor. They race up to the next floor, a collection of salons and a fine music room furnished in shades of yellow. There a pair of short clay servants move to attack the invaders, joined by more clay servants closing from above and below. Attsu shifts into his feline war form and smashes three of them, and Aya and Kismet finish the stragglers.

They advance another level, to a floor hung with various jade and emerald hues. Most of the floor is dominated by a library. The venturers handily dispatch another pair of aggressive clay servants, and scan the various titles in iron bookcases, held fast by iron skeletal hands. Aya tells the others that the library holds only mundane works, and they abandon the search there.

Kismet leads the way to the next level, only to be met by a beautiful young man who could pass for a particularly perfect Kheran pharaoh. The young man, wearing only a loosely wrapped cloth around his nethers, inhales sharply at the sight of the intruders. Kismet boggles a moment, then attempts to shush him. He screams and falls backwards, trying to crabwalk away from the menacing form of Attsu. Attsu pounces on the kept man, and ties him up gently but firmly. Aya looks for a spellbook in the various blue-hued chambers — parlors and an amply furnished love nest — but has no luck. “It was worth a try,” she says lightly as they proceed upwards.

The indigo floor above them is mostly baths, dressing chambers, and an exhaustive wardrobe; above that, hung in rich purples, is Nehedza’s personal quarters. Kismet is quick to notice an impressive-seeming tome on a reading stand by a hookah, and quickly darts for it. “Wait!” shouts Aya. The desert elf pauses and looks back at the genasi sorceress. “You should perhaps make certain it isn’t warded,” Aya explains. Kismet nods, and more carefully examines the book’s stand. She realizes that the nearby hookah is not a hookah at all — almost certainly a spirit vessel that serves as another ugly surprise for unauthorized readers. She makes a note to secure the book for Harira on the way back down, and with a few clay servants still pursuing them, the venturers move up to the final interior floor.

The last floor is a large single room, decorated simply with pale hues of white and bone against the black stone walls. The entire room is a workshop, with stairs up to the roof against a far wall, several tables and workbenches, a decorative statue of a woman, and the armored skeleton of a drakh. The last, standing free of any furniture, raises its sword to salute Attsu, and drops into a battle stance.

Attsu doesn’t bother to return the salute. He attacks, and is surprised when the skeleton moves quickly enough to block his claws. But Kismet takes the opportunity to strike upwards into its ribcage, shattering much of its torso. Aya conjures a blast from her orb of storms and knocks the pursuing clay servants back downstairs.

The workshop turns cold as the Underworld as the spectral form of a woman emerges from the statue. A deathly presence surrounds the venturers, sapping their vitality. Kismet quickly finishes the drakh skeleton and Aya dashes the servants to bits as Attsu claws vainly at the spectre.

The ghosty woman reaches through Attsu, and he feels her glacial fingers questing about for his soul. Kismet rallies strikes through it with her compass scimitar, doing grievous damage. As the other venturers focus on the spectre, it waves its fingertips through Kismet, clawing away at her life force. She staggers back but keeps her feet, and she slices it again as Attus tears into its form with blazing firebrass talons. Aya draws a deep breath and gathers the sum of her power, and throws a powerful ball of wind into the spectre’s torso. It explodes with raw elemental force, blasting the phantom into wisps that quickly dissipate.

They quickly find the Dysian lantern hanging on a hook by the stairs to the roof. Kismet quickly exchanges it for the replica crafted by Jasenta, tucks it into her band, and races back down a flight. She hurriedly but expertly disarms the wards on Nehedza’s spellbook and pulls it from the stand. “Do you think this will be enough to justify a robbery?” she asks. “Is it believable that this is valuable enough that it’s the only thing thieves would stay long enough to take?”

Aya nods firmly. “Absolutely.”

They move back downstairs a few flights, and meet Abd and Wind-of-Embers, battered but whole, on the music room’s level. Almost on whim, Kismet looks out the window, and in the far distance, she sees a ghostly form floating above the rooftops of Izir — on a trajectory with the tower. She glances down, and as Fate would have it, a cart of many ripe figs and dates and melons lies directly below the window. She tells the others of the shortcut, and they agree to move quickly out of the window. Kismet activates her spider-slippers and runs down the side of the wall; Aya conjures a minor wind to slow her fall; and Attsu takes his scouting cat form and bounds easily down the columnar basalt. Sadly, the bloodied Abd and Wind-of-Embers have no option but to leap for it, and they both land safely amid the fragrant fruits in a glorious mess.

Kismet carefully smuggles the group across the street when nobody is looking, bundling them into an alley. She conjures a water elemental using the Dolphin Jewel and bids it to wash the pulp and juice from her comrades. As Abd and Wind-of-Embers submit to the crude ablution, Attsu focuses on the Hunter Jewel to discern Nehedza’s location. The jewel gives him the peculiar indication that she is in two places at once: both in the direction of the crematorium, and in her tower. With a start, the venturers realize that they have a singular opportunity. While Nehedza projects her spirit to investigate her tower, they can steal the lachystrix from her body!

They waste no time at all. Attsu takes the mock spindle from Kismet, places it in one of the compartments within his body, and darts into a storm drain to find the sea cave again. While the other venturers race to the harbor, Attsu moves to find the vents that led into the crematorium’s basement once more.

He finds his way to the crematorium’s lower level as quickly as possible. The larger workshop is much as they’d left it, though he notices that the lift is currently down, despite nobody being actively visible. He quietly enters the inner laboratory where the simulacra were sculpted. There, on the stone slab where the clay Abd had rested, lies a handsome older woman in dark clothing, hands neatly folded and utterly unconscious. Attsu quickly removes the spindle-like tool from her belt, places the replica in its stead, and turns to leave. He pauses for a moment, remembering the stories of magi unable to return to their bodies. He knocks Nehedza’s unoccupied body to the floor, and bolts to the vents.

In the meantime, the other venturers arrive in the harbor, breathing heavily after their run. The crew of the Petulant Parrot sits idly on deck, betting on a three-way dice game. Kismet bellows at them to get underway, and they hurriedly gather their coins and obey. As Aya moves belowdecks to remove her “Raisho” disguise, Kismet notes that the fickle hand of Fate has moved against her again, as the unctuous harbor warden Jairut al-Fedwar al-Izir and several of his men are departing the coffee vendor where they’d had their lunch. The harbor warden notes the crew moving hurriedly, and he beckons his men to follow him.

Kismet hisses at the sailors to slow down and look less agitated, then strolls innocently down the gangplank. Fate favors her once again, as she glances over to a nearby stall where she sees a familiar teenage girl purchasing imported cloth. She mock-idly wanders to the cloth vendor, and asks Needles if she might purchase a distraction.

The young girl says calmly that she’ll do what she can, but it depends on what she gets out of it. Kismet responds by reaching into her magical bag and withdrawing one of the gold bars stolen from the crematorium. The young thief’s eyes briefly widen, and then she tucks it neatly away and clicks her tongue. A nearby bundle of rags unfolds from the wall, and a tattered halfling races past her and away. “Thief!” shrieks Needles. “Thief! In front of the very harbor warden? How dare you! Audacious criminal!”

Jairut al-Fedwar al-Izir gapes at the vanishing halfling, back at the still-cursing girl, and spares one final glance at the ship before he beckons for his men to pursue the halfling. Kismet slips back up the gangplank with a final wink for Needles, and bids the crew cast off before the harbor warden changes his mind.

Attsu, small and cat-form, emerges from a storm drain. He spies the Petulant Parrot moving through the water, and dashes to intercept, He bounds from pier to ship, from ship to ship, and clambers up a mast. He runs at full speed down the spar, and leaps for the departing ship — but his claw hooks ever so slightly on a line, and he plunges into the ocean a yard from the Parrot deck. The metal cat, and the lachystrix and Hunter Jewel within him, sink toward the bottom of the Izir harbor. But Kismet dives after him, and with the Dolphin Jewel granting her speed and breath, she takes hold of her companion and brings him back up to the ship. With all the venturers safely aboard, lacystrix and orpharos with them, the ship carefully threads past the Izir beacons and out to sea.

They return to Adwa without sighting any Izir sails. There a large group of Mashaar’s Orphans greet their return — grimly at first, then with delight when Kismet presents the Dysian necromantic tools. Captain Tairasha takes her and kisses her fully, to the amusement of his fellow captain.

Blessed Lirin at onces sends for Rizazh al-Tajat to come and offer counsel. Once he arrives, he and Lirin are required to send some of the Orphans out of Mashaar’s room so they have peace and quiet to work. Unfortunately, even with all three tools at hand, the process of using them to bind a soul into a body is still somewhat theoretical. Rizazh says he has read extensively about Dysian necromancy, but he could not guarantee that he can perfectly recreate the ceremony.

“Why not test it on Abd?” asks Aya. The assembled Orphans stare back at her, and Abd speaks up. “I agree. If it fails, the thing of least value is lost.”

Blessed Lirin, Rizazh, and Aya collaborate then to recreate the soul-binding ceremony. Lirin and Rizazh quickly concur on several steps. Aya, who has not spent any time at all researching the business, at one point stretches out an experimental hand. Lirin slaps her on the wrist. “Don’t do that.”

They set the orpharos behind Abd’s torso, and unstopper the urn with his name on it. As the wisp within drifts into Abd’s body, Rizazh begins chanting as he makes sewing motions with the lachystrix. He and Lirin look anxiously at the Abd as the ceremony closes.

“I feel… different,” is all that Abd can say. But he nods, and falls into contemplation.

Much heartened, Blessed Lirin and Rizazh (but not Aya) turn their attention to Mashaar. Again they place the orpharos, open a soul urn, and pass the lachystrix in sewing motions. More of the Orphans quietly cram into the room as the ceremony concludes. Mashaar’s eyes finally flutter open, and she weakly sits up. She regards the room, and smiles. “Oh, my beloved children of my heart,” she says.

“Welcome back,” says Attsu, before the room explodes into laughter and cheers.

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36 - The Living Jewel's Offer
The tale of a reunited soul and a bejeweled bargain.

Upon the arrival of the “Petulant Parrot”, Wind-of-Embers found her attention drawn to odd posters hung around the harbor. They advertised meetings of a religious sect called the Prismatic Flame, and were marked with the writing of many languages. But most notably, she saw her own name picked out in drakhan runes. Excusing herself from her comrades, she went off in search of the house advertised on the posters.

She discovered not a proper mosque, but rather a small shrine built into a warehouse. There she met Axos, the enthusiastic half-elven priest of the Prismatic Flame. Axos and his drakhan acolyte described their faith as honoring all gods of flame, from the Mad Devourer to the dwarven gods Skeorn and Skalda, and of course Hakasarre.

Wind-of-Embers asked just why her name was on the posters. Axos explained that he was encouraged to advertise for her. He revealed that he has received a vision from a patron of hers — an ifrita, Baklasha by name, who has taken an interest in Wind-of-Embers’ future for unexplained reasons. Axos offered whatever help he could, and when Wind-of-Embers told him Nehedza’s name, he did not quail. He presented her with a few small glass marbles that seemed to hold fire inside — weapons that would soften stone and metal, rendering Nehedza’s constructs vulnerable.

Axos invited Wind-of-Embers to stay, and assist with a ritual blessing that night. The elven priest agreed. She then sent word of her decision to the Burning Belly, accounting for her evening.

As Abd tucks away the small vessel with his name, the other venturers examine the shelves of urns. Kismet selects an urn at random, and gives it a vigorous shake; when she hears a faint sigh emit from the stoppered vessel, she carefully puts it back. Attsu pauses and realizes he recognizes a name — Tairuda, an elemental sorceress who was also present at the Queen of Birds’ court an age ago. He quietly takes the urn and places it into one of the carrying cavities in his torso.

After a brief discussion, Kismet shrugs and sweeps the soul urns from one of the shelves. They shatter on the stone floor, and spectral coils of mist unfurl from the shards, whispering, before dissipating on a phantom wind. Kismet shudders, and before she can decide whether or not she’s brought bad luck on herself, Abd dashes the other shelf of urns to the ground.

The venturers slip out of the crematorium and return to the Burning Belly. Wind-of-Embers greets them from one of the low tables. Khosa offers the proprietor a pouch of coin, and the house master sends the straggling customers out into the warm Izir night. The venturers tell Wind-of-Embers what they found in the crematorium, what they still lack, and the group discusses potential next moves. They reach a general accord to speak to Jasenta the Living Jewel — if she is truly Nehedza’s rival, then perhaps she might gladly assist.

Abd grows more serious as he removes the soul urn from his tunic. He tells his companions that he is at a crossroads, that he intends to resolve when Mashaar is safe. “Before I lost my soul,” he says, “I was not a good man. I do not think I am a good man now. You have seen who I was when Nehedza gave this soul false flesh: I was cruel and unrelenting. I have attempted to do good, for the sake of others, but I have done so without a soul to redeem. And though I abide by the law of Jalisa the Ever-Vigilant, the mind of a goddess is beyond all of us.

“Prophets have said that a man’s actions can be judged only by his family and his enemies, not by himself.” He pauses. “You are the closest thing to a family that I possess, and you have seen me as I am and as I was. You must be the ones to judge. Am I a better man without my soul, and is this—” he displays the urn— “best consigned to oblivion? Or if I were to reclaim this darkness, would I be strong enough that I would not fall again to wickedness?”

He sets the urn on the table. “I believe I already know the answer to this question. You have all shown me that I prefer myself as I am now. But as I say — I cannot know myself. I ask you to speak truly with me, and I will accept your wisdom.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” says Kismet, and she seems genuinely puzzled. “Take the soul back. We trust you.”

Abd seems unconvinced, but as the others speak, they provide a united front. Wind-of-Embers tells him that she has faith in him. Aya says it would be a great loss if his soul were simply lost, not redeemed. Attsu praises the strength and character of his brother-in-arms. Finally, Abd nods.

“Thank you,” he says, and he returns the soul urn to his tunic. And then, quite exhausted, the venturers find their way to their beds.

The following morning, the group travels to the wealthiest district of Izir, where the towers of the wizards stand. Aya reclaims her persona of Raisho, haughty sorceress, and the others fall into place as her entourage. They arrive at the polished stone tower of Jasenta the Living Jewel at the hour of a late breakfast. A dwarf in fine servant’s clothing answers the bell, and deferentially allows the band inside at Khosa’s entreaty.

The interior of Jasenta’s tower is adorned in rich blues and greens. The dwarf escorts the party into a stylish parlor with a bubbling fountain, where shortly they are joined by the Living Jewel herself. Jasenta is a middle-aged woman leaning slightly to the heavy side, her fine begemmed gold jewelry and rich red robes and turban offsetting skin of an almost translucent sapphire blue. Though she might seem to be a genasi, Aya quietly sees the tells of a cosmetic magic at play.

The venturers open negotations by establishing their vaguely defined opposition to the Shrouded Moon, and leaving out their opposition to the Ascending Flame as a whole. When they disclose that they hope to steal the Dysian implements from her, Jasenta seems amused, and offers some small help. She says that she can likely make replicas, and swiftly, that could be substituted. They would have no power, of course, but they might fool Nehedza.

Then Jasenta makes a larger offer. She tells the venturers that she could offer much more help — aid fleeing the island, more resources — if they were to give her one of the Zodiac Jewels in return. The lapidary wizard is fascinated by the legendary gems, and would give much to possess one.

The venturers are reluctant to make that offer. They confer privately to discuss it, and agree that though some of the jewels could be spared, they do not feel comfortable leaving any more in Izir. Jasenta veils her disappointment with courtesy, and tells them that the offer will remain open should they change their minds. Then she bids them make themselves comfortable, and withdraws to fashion the replicas.

A little over an hour later, the Living Jewel returns. The servant accompanying her offers a tray, bearing the convincingly tarnished orpharos lantern and lachystrix spindle, their lines showing the peculiarities of Dysian craftsmanship. The venturers accept the gift and thank her profusely. Jasenta wishes them luck, and hopes that later they may return to accept her offer.

The group then settles into a small garden park to sip excellent coffee from a nearby stall and wait. An hour before noon, Attsu feels the tug of the Hunter Jewel on his senses. Nehedza is on the move. They give her enough time to get most of the way to her crematorium, and then move on her tower. There are few enough passerby in the wealthy district that they are able to slip into a servants’ entrance with little trouble.

The halls of the lowest floor are worked in dark stone, with hangings and furnishings in a variety of rich reds. Attsu and Kismet slip into the entry foyer, where they note a pair of seven-foot statues flanking the door — statues very like the stone man who accompanied Ubarid to the house of Igwu. They also see what seems to be a levitating disc elevator to one side, but decide it would be most prudent to use the stairs.

They move up to the second story, where the furnishings change to a series of opulent hues of orange. Attsu scouts ahead in his small cat form, finding first a fine banquet room and second a kitchen. But he is careless, and the cook trips over his metal shape. The cook reacts with immediate suspicion. Attsu feigns the innocence of an ordinary cat, but something in his demeanor outright frightens the cook. She dashes for a cord, and although Attsu pursues, he cannot stop her before she pulls the cord and a great alarm gong sounds through the tower.

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